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December 15, 2021

There is a yawning gap between the heightened war rhetoric from the Morrison Government and the delivery of the Defence capability we need to keep Australians safe.

The Prime Minister and Defence Minister have recently elevated their language on conflict, but after a revolving door of six Defence Ministers under the Liberal Government, Labor has significant concerns about the way major contracts have been managed and the effect this will have on our sovereign Defence capability.

The most significant and prominent example is with our submarines, where we have a fleet of ageing Collins Class vessels, and only a proposal for further submarines, with no concrete contract or plan.

Labor unequivocally supports the AUKUS partnership, and has acknowledged that nuclear powered submarines are the best option going forward.

However, AUKUS is yet to change anything in terms of our Defence capability, and has merely raised unanswered questions about when and how these proposed submarines will be delivered.

The Government is overseeing a host of Defence contracts that are over budget, face years of delay, and do not always represent value for money.

The Future Frigates are $10 billion over budget and running years late.

Our entire fleet of MRH-90 Taipan helicopters were grounded due to potentially catastrophic maintenance issues.

The C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifters were not fit for battle and had to be reclassified as humanitarian aircraft.

And our $3 billion Battle Management System failed cyber security tests

Beyond assets, the Morrison Government’s lack of action on climate change is putting Australia’s national security at risk.

Climate change remains the most significant threat to Australia’s defence and we unable to achieve lasting national security without an effective response to climate change.

The United States identified climate change as a top priority for the US military and described climate change as an ‘existential threat’ describing it as not a future defence problem, but an immediate challenge.

Our own 2020 Defence Strategic Update even highlighted that threats to human security – including climate change – are likely to result in greater political instability and friction within and between countries and reshape our security environment.

An elected Albanese Labor Government will address this with our Powering Australia policy, including undertaking an Urgent Climate Risk Assessment and Regular National Climate Risk Assessments and build an Australian National Prevention and Resilience Framework.

Like climate change the Morrison Government has also fallen behind in taking meaningful action to prevent cyber attacks on Australian organisations.

In fact one of Mr Morrison’s first actions when coming to office was to abolish the dedicated cyber security minister.

Labor has called for the Government to develop a National Ransomware Strategy to reduce the volume of these attacks and coordinate government action across policy, regulation, law enforcement, diplomatic and defence capabilities and introduced the Ransomware Payments Bill into parliament.

This Government has also repeatedly been caught out diminishing our national security capability through systemic privatisation.

Recently the Morrison Government was caught out trying to privatise security at a secure military facility in Western Australia.

Despite being an essential support facility for Australian, US and allied submarines, the Government told 25 AFP officers at the Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station they were being replaced by private security guards.

It was only after concerns were reportedly raised by the Pentagon that the government backflipped and rightly retained the AFP as the security force.

This is part of pattern of behaviour by a Liberal Party addicted to privatisation.

One of the most egregious examples is the outsourcing of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans are among the worst affected by the Government’s privatisation and outsourcing agenda.

The Department has the largest proportion of labour hire contractors of any government department - 33.4% of the total departmental.

In fact 41.6% of the department’s workforce was labour hire, including over half of front-line claims processing staff.

Poorly trained contractors and depriving veterans of the support the deserve, and we have heard of the tragic results of this in the current Royal Commission into Veterans Suicide.

Then there’s security vetting. Examination of AusTender indicates the cost of for-profit vetting providers has tripled with no commensurate improvement in performance.

And the PM’s Government has wasted almost $170 million attempting to privatise visa processing – twice.

The Government has made a show about commissioning a Defence review into the Port of Darwin which was privatised by the NT Country Liberal Party in 2015. Defence’s review is with Government.

Let’s be clear about this. If and when the cancellation of the Port of Darwin happens, the associated costs and fallout are on the Prime Minister’s lap. The Port of Darwin was privatised on his watch.

None of this would have happened if the Liberals were not addicted to privatisation.

While the Government likes to talk tough on national security, only Labor is committed to actually delivering the sovereign Defence capability we need.

This opinion piece was first published in the Canberra Times on Wednesday, 15 December 2021.